When you're the child of the Band's legendary Levon Helm, you have to embrace your heritage because you can't outrun it. Amy Helm has spent the last dozen years honing her skills and instincts onstage, both with her father and as a member of the Americana quintet Ollabelle. Now, just over a year after her father's death, Amy is finally getting ready to release her own, as yet untitled, solo debut later this year.
"Since he passed away, I feel a really deep responsibility to continue his legacy," says Helm. "I never thought about delineating my own sound from his, because I guess it just didn't translate that way to me. It felt like he was my teacher and I was learning a broad range of music — and just to stay true to the song, and sing what is you, and what you can deliver honestly."
To that end, the long-time supporting player has stepped into the spotlight, which has proven to be a growing process. Some reviews have suggested she could improve her stagecraft and banter, which seems only a matter of time judging by her relaxed charm in conversation.
The album, she says, will be a blend of old-fashioned and contemporary influences. Among its tracks are "Roll the Stone," which went on to get airplay after she posted a demo version on her website. The deep grooving, bloozy tune, is just one of several directions she says she'll be pursuing on the debut disk.
"It's got some blues stuff and my dad plays drums on four songs on the record. Some of it might sound more contemporary, some of it is just simple songs that I've co-written," she says, noting two covers of Martha Scanlan songs and one of Sam Cooke.
"I worked on this record off and on for about 3½ years when I was touring with my dad," she continues. "It just feels like the right time to put this collection of songs out, and I feel I have something to say with it that's honest."
That Helm would end up following in her father's footsteps as a musician was anything but a foregone conclusion. Although she played in a number of high school bands, Helm went off to college and got a degree in psychology. She taught for a while, but in her late 20s her father invited her on some tours, and there was no looking back.
"The opportunity and the right people to play with aligned for me," she recalls. "So I continued on the path of music and then realized that was more fun than just about anything and that was where my heart really was," says Helm. "By the time I turned 30 I was doing Ollabelle and a few other bands and kind of committed to it full-time."
Though Helm may have abandoned any pursuit of psychology as a career, she suggests that music is its own form of therapy.
"Whether you're playing it or listening to it, I think it's all the same," she says. "My dad used to say it's the language of heaven."